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The term elephant conservation refers to ongoing international efforts to shore up the wild populations of African and Asian elephants endangered by human poaching. Humans are said to be the only significant predatory threat for healthy adult elephants. Local residents have sometimes engaged in destruction of individuals or herds that encroach on their settlements or farmland. Efforts at elephant conservation include research to determine current behaviors of elephants in certain areas as well as census counts of individual elephants to monitor the number of surviving wild elephants. Workers in elephant conservation also encourage local residents to protect elephants rather than contributing to the destruction of wild herds.
Ivory trading and overhunting have traditionally threatened the existence of elephants in the wild. Some elephant species continue to be endangered by poaching and ivory sales. At the turn of the 21st century, the major issue in elephant conservation was the limit on available land for the natural roaming behaviors of elephants. All elephants need a large ranging habitat due to their daily intake of massive amounts of food. An adult elephant can eat between 150 and 660 pounds (68-300 kg) of vegetation per day, equivalent to about 5 percent of the elephant's own body weight.
Elephant conservation is a priority to environmental groups because elephants are considered important species for maintaining biodiversity in many ecosystems. For example, elephants naturally create gaps in the canopies of tropical forests, resulting in the regeneration of some tree species. In addition, some types of plants have developed elephant-dependent seed systems, relying on these creatures to pass the seeds through their digestive tracts in order for the seeds to germinate. By some estimates, one-third of the trees in some African forests are dependent on elephants for seed distribution.
Asian elephants, also known by the scientific name Elephas maximus, can live up to 65 years in the wild. Their main predators are lions and tigers. African elephants typically live around 50 years, with few natural predators other than humans. Lions and hyenas have been known to attack young or weak elephants.
The African elephant, or Loxodonta africana, is among the largest land-based animals on earth. Male elephants can become as tall as 14 feet (4.2 m) and weigh up to 7 tons (more than 6,350 kg). Females can begin reproducing at around 10 years old and have a gestation period of about 22 months.
Elephants live in social communities based around the females. A matriarch guides a family of between nine and 11 related elephants, including females and immature males. When males become fully mature, they leave the herd and roam alone.
As social creatures, elephants display a variety of gestures such as intertwining trunks. These creatures appear to show concern for injured or weakened members of their clans. Elephants have been observed to demonstrate what seem to be grief behaviors when a clan member dies.